'Heart's search for beauty and truth’

Jackie Shatz, left, curator of “Refuge,” the show currently on at the Green Door Gallery, artist Elisa Jensen and Fr. Paul Anel, a member of Heart's Home who helped found the gallery. PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT

By Peter McDermott

The Green Door Gallery is a case of build it and they will come — if the attendance at the Oct. 11 opening of “Refuge,” its latest show, is any measure.

Its two rooms were quickly filled on that Friday evening with artists, relatives, friends and neighbors from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The gallery, at the intersection of Humboldt Street and Skillman Avenue, is in part the brainchild of Fr. Tom Vassalotti, pastor of the Divine Mercy Parish.

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“He created the exhibition space because he knew there were so many artists in the neighborhood and wanted to reach out to them,” said Irish-American artist Elisa Jensen. “There are literally hundreds of artists in a five-block radius of the gallery. I think the fact that he did this is incredibly beautiful.”

The pastor was encouraged and aided in the initiative by Fr. Paul Adel, a French-born priest of Heart’s Home, who has been ministering to artists since his arrival in New York over a decade ago.

The gallery says it was “created to connect artists and the local community by celebrating art work that is uplifting and spiritual and fostering a culture of friendship.”

Its mission statement continues: “As part of the Divine Mercy Parish, the Green Door Gallery builds on the long, proud tradition of Catholic support for the arts (think Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Van Eyck and Giotto), while at the same time embracing contemporary art and all the creative expressions inherent in the human heart in its search for beauty and truth.”

“Refuge,” which is on through Nov. 10, takes as a starting point a quote from “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky: “This all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a spark. Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism ... are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism … holds the awakening soul in its grip ... The spiritual life to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards.”

Jensen commented of her own two paintings in “Refuge” in the catalog: “My recent work draws on ancient Irish and Norse poetry and sagas and art. Unraveling the mysteries of this ancient worldview has helped me to better understand the world around me and has spurred me to develop my own artistic imagery. My paintings of birds, figures, trees and symbols all connect back directly to ancient spiritual beliefs and reveal something deep that has been lost in our contemporary experience which is so much about what exists on the surface and illusion.”

“The love of Ireland, Irish history and culture was drilled into me by my mother and grandmother,” Jensen told the Echo. “My father was born in Denmark, so that is part of my heritage as well. My husband and children are Irish citizens, we have visited Ireland many times, and my experiences in Ireland have had a profound impact on my work as an artist.”

Jensen has also taken on the role of curator at the Green Door Gallery and recalled a show from 2018. “I had the idea to create a show that was like an Advent calendar, where a new work would be introduced each day — like opening the door of the calendar,” she said. “A new work was added and each day had its own hour long opening celebration for that artist and the new work. So from 5:30-6:30 the gallery opened and a new piece joined the show. [Some of the work from the show can be seen on the gallery’s website here.] It was magnificent and very exciting.

“Many of the artists returned to see how the show changed each day, and we had really wonderful conversations about the new work added,” she remembered. “I learned so much about each artist, their process and their work. The works changed, too, as more paintings and sculptures were added — there was a true conversation among the artworks.

“It was like a month-long meditation - enlightening, and also quite frankly, exhausting,” Jensen said “It was very difficult to be so present each day, and have that singular focus, but I did set up the premise, and it was called ‘Advent: Mindful Waiting’; so in that sense I think it was a great success.”

She added, “We had a culminating celebration on Jan. 6. I felt that was appropriate as it is the feast of the Epiphany. The artists gathered to see and celebrate the exhibition as it became and was revealed to be, a culmination of each singular day.”

The Green Door Gallery is located at 206 Skillman Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211 Gallery Hours: Saturday and Sunday 2 - 6 p.m. or by appointment;